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Palestinian boy with word censored taped across his mouth.

November 29, 2003.

Canpalnet members distributed leaflets to people going into Kidsbooks today.This was to counter the efforts of one of the owners of Kidsbooks to silence the voice of a Palestinian child, as conveyed in Elizabeth Laird's book “A Little Piece of Ground” (see leaflet).

After half an hour, we were told to stop or the police would be called. We calmly continued. And then the surprise: from nowhere visible three copies of “A Little Piece of Ground" suddenly appeared on display at the entrance to the store. This was a victory! We continued to leaflet so people would know the story of the failed campaign to suppress “A Little Piece of Land”.

But KIdsbook staff, challenged by customers about their actions, pretended they never had tried to block sales of the book (see our backgrounder and judge for yourself).

Energetic and direct challenge to the campaigns for silencing the voice of Palestinian children (and adults) can be successful. So we must expand and continue our efforts.

It is particularly appropriate to have a victory on November 29, the day the United Nations declared as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

A RESPONSE TO THE CAMPAIGN TO SUPPRESS
THE PUBLICATION AND DISTRIBUTION
OF “A LITTLE PIECE OF GROUND”

by Mordecai Briemberg
Member of CanPalNet

If the child is Kurdish, their experiences, their visions of the injustices in their world, are fit to be described by Elizabeth Laird, and published and distributed and read … and Phyllis Simon will display them in her store, Kidsbooks (Vancouver), advertised as the largest children's bookstore in Canada.

But if the child is Palestinian, their experiences of living today under Israeli occupation, their visions of the injustices in their world, are not fit to be described by Elizabeth Laird, says Phyllis Simon of Vancouver Kidsbooks. And should Laird dare to do so, they are unfit for publication and distribution by Macmillan Children's Books. And should they dare to do so, other children are unfit to read them … so says Phyllis Simon, and so you will not find “A Little Piece of Ground” in Kidsbooks.

Phyllis Simon has campaigned aggressively for the suppression of “A Little Piece of Ground”. The incidents in the story, as the author Elizabeth Laird explains, are based on reports of real events by the main Israeli human rights organization.

How does Phyllis Simon arrive at the conclusion that some children do not merit a public voice? I think it is because this Palestinian child's voice so profoundly challenges Ms. Simon's political loyalties to Israeli state actions that she is incapable of any other response to that child than … “Shut Up!”

Her fear of that child's telling of their experiences is so deep that she is not even capable of a fair reading of the text.

Following is the letter Phyllis Simon wrote to Macmillan publishers in her effort to have the book suppressed. The letter was posted by a relative of Phyllis Simon, with her permission, on the Hasafran website “The Electronic Discussion Forum of the Association of Jewish Libraries” [http://www.mail-archive.com/hasafran@lists.acs.ohio-state.edu/msg00285.html]

Dear Ms. Price:

I am the co-owner of Canada's largest and most successful children's bookstore called Kidsbooks. Part of what has made us thrive is our commitment to promoting excellence in literature, and in bringing to our customers attentions books they might not otherwise encounter.

During twenty years of business I have actively promoted many Macmillan titles, including those written by Elizabeth Laird. In fact, in my opinion her recent book The Garbage King is an outstanding novel that I have presented at several teachers events as one of the best books of the year.

However, when the HB Fenn representative showed me the advance flyer for A Little Piece of Ground written by Elizabeth Laird in conjunction with a Palestinian writer, alarm bells sounded in my head almost immediately. Why was I concerned? I worried that the book might be decidedly one-sided, given the author collaboration and the hype in the flyer (Macmillan's decision to rush publication, the endorsement by Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo, and the ludicrous comment by the book editor).

I therefore asked for an advance reading copy before I placed my order.

I hoped I'd not feel the need to take it one step further, and question the wisdom of it being published altogether. After reading the book, I find the situation is actually much worse than I had imagined it might be, and I am left with a profound sense of shock and disgust at the irresponsible decision to publish what I feel is a racist, inflammatory and totally one-sided piece of propaganda at a time when efforts are being made to resolve this conflict. In fact, I am certain that neither Macmillan nor any other children's publisher in the democratic world would ever agree to release a similar diatribe demonizing the Palestinians as this book vilifies the Israelis.

What is incomprehensible to me is that there is not even one mildly positive portrait of an Israeli in the entire book; the characters refer to suicide bombings, in which, need I remind you, children and innocent people are blown up, as bombing operations; in one scene, the protagonists father burns the Israeli flag to ashes while in contrast the Palestinian flag is used as the rallying point for the children in the story. Israeli tanks even kill a kitten, for Gods sake!! And these are just a few of the many obvious examples of single-sided misrepresentations of this extremely complex issue.

If this were a book for adults, I would say it could be biased, unfair, whatever. In that case, the book would have to stand up to the scrutiny of reviewers and mature readers. A Little Piece of Ground, however, is for children, the overwhelming number of whom clearly haven't a clue about this conflict, and thus depend on books like this for the opinions they form about what goes on in the Middle East. I can only imagine what they think after reading this blatant piece of hate-fomenting propaganda.

Although it is fashionable these days to excoriate the Israelis whilst championing the cause of the Palestinians, there surely is no doubt that there are many Israelis and Palestinians who work together and who respect each other. Yet, these authors purposely chose not to include a single such peace-seeking character, not even a hint that such people exist, in this book. You must ask yourself what agenda they have in choosing to paint so unbalanced a picture for children. And what role does Macmillan end up playing in backing this totally misguided endeavor?

I urge you in the strongest possible terms to take a second look at A Little Piece of Ground before you take the irreversible step of releasing such a damaging book.

Sincerely yours,

Phyllis Simon
Co-Owner, Kidsbooks
Vancouver, Canada

Some observations. In her letter urging the publisher to stop distribution of the book, de facto to pulp it, Phyllis Simon writes:
the characters refer to suicide bombings, in which, need I remind you, children and innocent people are blown up, as bombing operations …. these authors purposely chose not to include a single .. peace-seeking character, not even a hint that such people exist, in this book.
In alleging this Ms. Simon totally disregards a four page long dialogue (53-57) between the central character (Karim) and his beloved uncle. In this dialogue the uncle explores with Karim the significance of an ethic of human equality, where we all are the same flesh and blood and none of us impervious to the corruption of power. In this appropriately complex dialogue, the uncle acknowledges the anger of Karim arising from his humiliating experience at an Israeli check-point. Simultaneously the uncle transmits his own firm rejection of these bombings as a response to those humiliations. Clearly the uncle is a “peace-seeking character” and the failure of Phyllis Simon to recognize this says more about her outlook than it does about the book.
in one scene, the protagonists father burns the Israeli flag to ashes while in contrast the Palestinian flag is used as the rallying point for the children in the story
Are we now to go through all children's literature and cut out every instance, however absolutely authentic, of people burning one flag and raising another? Is this a rigorous opposition to all patriotic symbolism … or just another special rule for stories about Palestinians?
Israeli tanks even kill a kitten, for Gods sake!! And these are just a few of the many obvious examples of single-sided misrepresentations of this extremely complex issue.
Indeed as the Israeli tanks prepare for assaults on Palestinians, huddled under curfew in their homes, they spin and crush a kitten that was one of the underfed and scavenging critters Karim so adored. No time for sentiment when making war.

But Phyllis Simon is so anxious to spin her own “single-sided misrepresentation” of Laird's book that she excises -- possibly even from her own consciousness – what, in this story, immediately precedes the crushing of the kitten. In a still moment before the assault, when some of the Israeli crew climb out of their tanks, one of them notices this same kitten, spontaneously pets, tickles, and feeds it. Karim observing this from hiding is resentful that the kitten accepts the Israeli soldier's affection. “Traitor!” he says under his breath.

But then, as the cat ate, the soldier “looked up, his face under its steel helmet alive with laughter, his teeth showing white against his tanned skin. Karim drew in a sharp breath. For a moment, for a split second, the hated soldier, in his invader's uniform, had looked exactly like Jamal [Karim's elder brother whom he deeply admires].”

Phyllis Simon is apparently incapable of recognizing the simple truth portrayed in this incident: the Israeli is human, even a possible brother, when separated from his tank and other instruments of power, but unrelentingly cruel when imposing his occupation by force.

The elementary, horrible reality Ms. Simon refuses to acknowledge, even to recognize, is that the overwhelming numbers of Palestinian children in the occupied territories encounter Jewish-Israelis only as combat soldiers.

Ignoring this and misrepresenting the text itself, Ms. Simon purblindly berates Elizabeth Laird:

What is incomprehensible to me is that there is not even one mildly positive portrait of an Israeli in the entire book.
Phyllis Simon's states that when she learned that

A Little Piece of Ground [was] written by Elizabeth Laird in conjunction with a Palestinian writer, alarm bells sounded in my head almost immediately
How reflexive is Ms. Simon's fear and hostility to anyone Palestinian!

My comments do not serve as a review of Elizabeth Laird's “A Little Piece of Ground”. It is simply a brief response to Phyllis Simon's effort to justify her (now unsuccessful) endeavor to suppress publication and distribution of this book.

I commend the book to you for review. Purchase it, read it, and consider whether there are children in their early teens with whom you in turn would wish to share it.

Children in their early teens soon will assume adult responsibilities for our world. The passions, conflicts and injustices of today will not magically dissolve before their adulthood. They too will need to grapple with these dilemmas.

What can help them understand the possible paths to peace and justice in a world they will inherit with the billions of other soon-to-be adults in other countries?

Surely not silencing a Palestinian, or any other, child's story.